De las Casas had argued for decades against the system of forced
labor and land seizure that had been the standard modus operandi during
the Spanish Conquista. His assertion that the people native to the
Americas were possessed of a soul, and therefore human, was considered
radical and treasonous by many at the time, especially the landowners
who were engorging their fortunes on the backs of the natives. As we
look back on that today it seems bizarre that someone should have to
work an entire lifetime just to prove the humanity (much less the
equality) of other beings we so clearly resemble. A document like Sublimis Deus hardly seems necessary.
Or does it? The recent debacle in the U.S. Senate over the admission
of openly homosexual people to the military brought Bartolome de las
Casas to mind. In the most recent chapter of this ugly spectacle, the
Senate decided once again to let gay people in America who are willing
to die fighting for their country to continue to do so as long as they
are willing to keep silent about their lovers, their families and their
intimate lives. In short, the important stuff. Don’t ask, don’t tell,
the delusional compromise we ended up with during the last act of this
drama, under Bill Clinton, is the opposite of the medieval Sublimis Deus—it says in effect that we will accept you into our club, if are willing to deny your own humanity.
Last week the Senate, unable to surmount a filibuster-brandishing
Republican caucus united in their devotion to bigotry, let “Don’t Ask,
Don’t Tell” stand, pending a Pentagon study to be released sometime
later this year to determine the impact of the policy on our armed
forces. Democrats are hoping the study will give Pentagon backing to
their plan to finally allow the equal protection clause of the
Constitution to apply to gay soldiers, sailors and airmen. They are
hoping that once the election is over, fulminating Republicans like John
McCain will be able to listen to their better angels rather than the
fury of the mobs besotted with Fox News.
Sometimes you wonder if the legislature is aware that people around
the world can see what they’re doing. This embarrassment occurred in the
same year that Argentina and Mexico legalized gay marriage. It occurred
during a war in which nearly all of our “coalition partners” in
Afghanistan, and nearly all of our NATO partners, allow gay people to
serve openly, honestly and proudly in the military.
Back in 2006, when American Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry transferred
military control of the region around Kandahar to the Canadian Brig.
Gen. David Fraser, I do not recall him asking for assurances that all
2,300 troops under Fraser’s command were committed heterosexuals. This
act of faith on Eikenberry’s part should be more than enough assurance
that unit cohesion and combat readiness are not going to be affected by
the acknowledgement that our military ranks include people of all sexual
Back when Barack Obama was running for president, two-thirds of
American men and 80 percent of American women polled believed that
openly gay men and women should be permitted to serve in the U.S.
military. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael
Mullen, says it’s time to end “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
We don’t need another study. We shouldn’t even need another debate.
It is long past time. Centuries past time.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times.